Amazingly, only two teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association have winning records at the halfway point of the conference season. Colorado College (13-3-0) and Denver (11-3-0) have run away with the top two spots, leaving the rest of the league at .500 or below. North Dakota (7-7-0 WCHA) and Michigan Tech (5-6-1 WCHA) are in good shape for home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs, despite their average league records.
UND is in good shape for a stretch run, as the toughest part of their schedule seems to be behind them. With seven conference weekends remaining, the Sioux will host Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, Denver, and St. Cloud State, and travel to MSU-Mankato, Minnesota, and Minnesota-Duluth. It is my prediction that North Dakota will still be in third place at the end of the regular season, hosting a first-round playoff series, advancing to the WCHA Final Five, and avoiding the dreaded Thursday play-in game.
That stretch run begins now. UND can strengthen its position with strong showings this weekend and against Mankato and Anchorage. Five wins in those six contests isn’t out of the questions, and would give the Sioux much-needed momentum heading down to Mariucci to take on the Golden Gophers in early February.
For Michigan Tech, early-season success has given way to inconsistency. An injury has kept the Huskies’ top goaltender, junior Michael-Lee Teslak (4-4-2, 1.72 GAA, .934 SV), out of action for the past five games. It is unknown whether he will make a start this weekend. If he cannot go, junior netminder Rob Nolan (5-5-0, 2.50 GAA, .903 SV) will handle the duties between the pipes.
Michigan Tech Team Profile
National Rankings: #18/-
Head Coach: Jamie Russell (5th season at MTU, 50-101-22, .353)
This Season: 9-9-2 Overall, 5-6-1 WCHA (t-5th)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 17.3% (17 of 98), Penalty Kill 89.1% (82 of 92)
Last Season: 18-17-5, 11-12-5 WCHA (6th)
Key Players: Senior F Peter Rouleau (7-8-15), Senior F Tyler Shelast (11-5-16), Junior D Geoff Kinrade (1-10-11), Junior G Michael-Lee Teslak (4-4-2, 1.72 GAA, .934 SV)
North Dakota Team Profile
National Rankings: #8/#10
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 88-53-12, .614)
This Season: 10-8-1 Overall, 7-7-0 WCHA (3rd)
Specialty Teams: Power Play 15.4% (12 of 78), Penalty Kill 88.2% (82 of 93)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four semifinalist), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (9-11-20), Junior F T.J. Oshie (10-8-18), Sophomore F Chris VandeVelde (7-9-16), Senior D Robbie Bina (1-16-17), Junior D Taylor Chorney (0-12-12), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (10-8-1, 1.95 GAA, .929 SV)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 27, 2007. UND defeats the Huskies 6-0 to gain a split of the weekend series in Houghton. Michigan Tech won the opener, 3-1 (ENG).
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: December 15-16, 2006. Michigan Tech sweeps the series in Grand Forks, 3-1 and 3-2, for its first sweep over North Dakota in 14 years.
All-time: UND leads the all-time series, 129-88-8 (.591). The teams first met in 1948.
Game News and Notes
UND has won at least one game on 19 consecutive regular season weekends, tops among WCHA teams. North Dakota forward Ryan Duncan was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week following his four point weekend at St. Cloud State. Duncan won the Hobey Baker Award last season. UND senior netminder Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux has played in 88 career games, and can tie Scott Brower (1984-88) for fourth all-time with two starts this weekend. Hockey legend Gordie Howe is scheduled to drop the ceremonial first puck prior to Friday’s game.
This is the weekend for a stick salute. UND brings too much depth and experience, and Teslak’s injury will hurt the Huskies. The Sioux will not let these points slip away. UND 3-2, 5-1.
Thank you for reading. I welcome your questions and comments. Click here for reaction to Friday’s game. Check back after Saturday’s contest for more reaction, news, and commentary.